In today’s technological age the media is stronger than it has ever been before. The press has a unique but overbearing power on how we live our day-to-day lives by influencing us to buy products, believe rigidly in a religious or political institution, convincing us to shun criminals and separate us from each other. No matter where you tread, you cannot go very long without hearing about scandals, the environment, dangerous criminals, the #Metoo movement, Greta Thunberg, the next generic Ed Sheeran song or the consistent bombardment of celebrities flaunting their fame whilst walking red carpets.
Headliner: NoviNews grants you the agency to determine which newspaper headlines you want to run. As a newly hired Headliner, your job is to sort through the day’s headlining features, either accepting or rejecting them as you see fit. Every decision you make will either bear fruit or consequence and the community of Novistan will show their appreciation or disdain for the decisions that you make. Making Novistan happy is of course the desired way forward, so if you publish headlines regarding the promise of drugs and show the government are co-operative and supportive about community concerns, they will be satisfied enough so that you don’t end up with metaphoric blood on your hands. However, when you shake Novistan’s foundations with damaging headlines or by refusing to publish promising news, you may want to steer clear of the blowback.
And what a blowback you may incur if you discard social concerns and opt to prioritise governmental standpoints and forefront negative coverage. Upheaval will ensue and there will be uprisings and civil unrest if you push a certain viewpoint too far. Watching the populace disintegrate before your eyes is quite sobering and shocking but knowing that you’ve played the guiding hand towards oppression only strengthens the sobriety and potential regret stemming from woeful decision-making.
The community in general isn’t your only concern though, as there are a host of characters you interact with whose relationships you can liberally enrich or defile as your whims allow you. Justin is your brother and aspiring comedian who tells you bad jokes but you can shape how he feels which can in turn determine his career prospects. Evie is your co-worker who has some work, social and health concerns you can either help her in overcoming or hinder her by being a grade A jerk. Your boss and resident J.Jonah Jameson lookalike will constantly pick up on the minute details of the choices you make and praise or criticise you accordingly, demanding you fill quotas and forcing you to choose between two articles; one you must approve and one you must negate in order to proceed.
There’s also a bumbling shopkeeper named Rudy because he can rudely waste your time, who has a daughter who can act dependant of how you choose to conduct yourself as a headliner – which doesn’t always have her turn out as a graceful child of the future just so you’re aware. There are also a few sketchy fellows you’ll run into who’ll try to manipulate you into supporting government or creating anarchy, so it always pays to be extra weary and sceptical when these nosey figures are lurking about. An additional character can be unlocked upon initial completion, only adding to the freshness the game offers if you stick with it through multiple playthroughs.
Headliner does a lovely job of giving you an uncomplicated yet empowering story to which you are the instigator and author of, very reminiscent of Papers Please, making you feel like an authority who has a bespoke dominion over the citizens you are charged with bringing the media’s news to. How things play out over the 14-day story has everything to do with what stories you want to green-light and how you treat your acquaintances – in this way Headliner does an impressive job of massaging your curiosities and audacities.
Structurally, Headliner is noticeably simplistic and repetitive that you’ll feel the grind of doing the same few tasks over and over. The day starts at work as a Headliner, then you jump to the outside world where you can choose to speak to the other denizens of the township. Before long you go home, go to sleep and wake up the next day to do it all over again. Unless you completely embrace the characters and the control you’ve been given as a Headliner, you will likely grow bored long before the brief story concludes.
The visual style and its two-dimensional setup echo the simplicity of the rest of the game, but don’t let that put you off because it belies a whole lot of intrigue and wonderment as it continually prods you to find ways to impact Novistad. Seeing explosions tear across the screen and large-scale protests happening along with televisual flickers occasionally bleating in and out make Headliner an interesting game to look at even if the character models are blah.
For those who persist with it, Headliner: NoviNews will likely draw you in and surprise you by how the characters react to every choice you make and the multiple ways their fates can be altered come the endgame. The brevity may put some off and the day-to-day repetition will get old fast, but the control you possess is very engrossing and will be the main reason for you to play through the game multiple times. You may not be plugging at it for long, but Headliner is worth a shot because it makes players feel like their actions matter. What with many mainstream games going through the motions of diminishing returns and marginalising your status, a modest indie title like Headliner will likely remind you that players should be placed at the epicentre of control – so thus, we doth our caps to Headliner as it aptly headlines the crucial component of empowerment in video games, even it comes with a side of a few irksome kinks.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.